About Kazakh Steppe


The Kazakh Steppe occupies vast areas in Northern and Central Kazakhstan, extending for more than 2,200 km between the Caspian Sea in the west and the Altai Mountains in the east and holding one of the largest intact dry steppe areas in the world (up to 800 000 km²), of which over 30 % is believed to remain in semi-natural or natural condition (IUCN 2010).

Kazakh Steppe map



Due to its location away from any influence of seas or oceans, climate of the Kazakh Steppe is characterized by its distinct seasonality. Summers are typically hot and dry and winters are usually cold, with temperature range between 40 and -40 ͦC. Precipitation is on average 250 to 300 mm a year, most of it falling in spring. Strong winds are typical for the steppe, bringing droughts in summer and snowstorms in winter.



Kazakh Steppe is home to several unique species of mammals such as Saiga Antelope Saiga tatarica, Bobak Marmot Marmota bobak, Corsak Fox Vulpes corsac and Steppe Pika Ochotona pusilla. Such steppe specialist birds as Sociable Lapwing Vanellus gregarius, Steppe Eagle Aquila nipaliensis, Black Lark Melanocorypha yeltoniensis, Pallid Harrier Circus macrourus and Demoiselle Crane Anthropoides virgo are found here. All these species are very well adapted to living in open and dry landscapes and although some of them are found elsewhere, their strongholds are here, in steppes of Kazakhstan.




Steppe vegetation is dominated by numerous species of feathergrass (Stipa sp), wormwood (Artemisia sp) and fesca (Festuca sp) as well as some small steppe shrubs (Spiraea sp). At the end of April steppe turns into a carpet of blooming tulips, in May and June – it is a sea of silver feather grass. Although there is enough precipitation for diverse grass and shrub vegetation, conditions are too dry to support tree growth. However there are some species of trees which survive here mainly along rivers and in unique pine and birch forests (for example in Naurzum State Nature Reserve).









Wetlands and rivers

Wetlands of globally recognized importance such as the Tengiz-Korgalzhyn and Sarykopa lake systems, which jointly form the Saryarka UNESCO World Heritage Site, protect approximately 2.6 million ha of natural steppe and steppe wetlands and are of particular importance for breeding and migrating birds (IUCN 2010). The Tengiz-Korgalzhyn lakes alone annually support an estimated two million water birds during autumn migration and are home to a large proportion of world population of such species of rare birds as White-headed Duck Oxyura leucocephala and Dalmatian Pelican Pelicanus crispus (Schielzeth et al 2008).

Alongside with a few large rivers such as Irtysh, Ishim, Torgai and Nura there are thousands of small rivers and streams running through the steppe, bringing water to wetlands. These water sources are very important to people and to many species of animals during hot dry summers.










IUCN (2010) The Kazakh steppe. Conserving world’s largest dry steppe region. Temperate grassland conservation initiative. Downloaded from: http://www.iucn.org/about/union/ commissions/wcpa/wcpa_what/wcpa_conservingsd/wcpa_grasslandstf/

Schielzeth, H., Eichhorn, G., Heinicke, T., Kamp, J., Koshkin, M.A., Koshkin, A.V. & Lachmann, L. (2008) Waterbird population estimates for a key staging site in Kazakhstan: a contribution to wetland conservation on the Central Asian flyway. Bird Conservation International, 18, 71-86.


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